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Blues search for answers after loss to Oilers

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- The Edmonton Oilers have a full arsenal of terrific young talent, but a crafty old-timer turned back the clock Tuesday.

Forty-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin, playing in only his seventh game of the season, displayed some of his youthful brilliance of yesteryear with a scintillating 43-save effort for his 46th career shutout to lead the Oilers to a 3-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.

Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall each had three-point games, with Eberle picking up two goals and Hall scoring once, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had two assists and the Oilers (12-13-7) snapped a three-game winless streak. Edmonton also won for the first time in St. Louis in seven games dating back to a 5-3 win Dec. 11, 2009.

Khabibulin, 3-3-1 on the season, turned back wave after wave of shots throughout the game, including 21 in the second period alone. It was the first time he's blanked the Blues in 47 career starts against them.

"I felt pretty good out there," said Khabibulin, who improved to 22-17-4 lifetime against the Blues. "It was 43 shots, but they are the kind of team that shoots from anywhere and tries to get the rebounds and deflections. That’s why the number of shots was high.

"Tonight, I think everything clicked. It’s nice. A while ago, I was trying to see how many teams I had shut out in my career and St. Louis wasn’t one of them. Coming into a game you want to get a shutout, but you don’t really expect one."

"We’re all really happy for [Khabibulin]," said Hall, who has 11 points in eight games. "He’s worked really hard to come back from surgery and it’s great to see him playing well. He’s a real professional. You can really see he’s enjoying it. He makes tough saves look easy and goes about his business. That’s why he’s been around for so long."

Said Eberle of Khabibulin: "He was the story of the night. He made the saves when it mattered."

The Blues (17-13-2), who came in 11-1-1 in the last 13 against the Oilers and outshooting them 43-19 for the game, dropped their third in four games as they teeter on the edge of the postseason cutoff line. They held a closed-door meeting before media members were allowed into the locker room 22 minutes at game's end, and coach Ken Hitchcock did not address the media until 10:45 local time, or an hour, 17 minutes after the game.

"I think it's going to require a deeper buy-in from the group, which is what we talked about here with our leaders," Hitchcock said. "That was why we met. We met with our leaders post-game. It's going to take a deeper buy-in by the group for us to be successful. I think that's going to be a partnership by management, coaches and players. It's going to have to be deeper. It's not deep enough."

When Alexander Steen, one of the alternate captains, was asked what was addressed, he said: "We're not talking about that. What happens in here, stays in here."

The Oilers cashed in on a Blues turnover when they broke out on a 3-on-1 following a David Perron turnover. Nugent-Hopkins poked the puck to Hall, who saucer-fed a pass to the top of the crease to Eberle. Eberle made no mistake in getting his eighth of the season with 8:31 remaining in the opening period, redirecting the puck into an open side past Jake Allen.

Khabibulin was up to the task for the Blues' best chance, when Vladimir Tarasenko's wrister from the slot was snapped up by the 40-year-old's mitt to preserve the 1-0 lead. He also stopped Steen, Perron and David Backes on breakaways.

"For us it’s such a desperation time, getting two points more important right now," Khabibulin said. "Having played a good game is more important than a shutout. Shutouts are a combination of the team playing good, goalie playing good, and getting lucky a couple of times when everything falls in place, you get a shutout."

Despite getting outshot 21-5 in the second period, the Oilers made the most of their limited opportunities, getting goals from Eberle at 3:26 and Hall at 5:17 to go up 3-0.

Eberle got his second of the game when he took Nugent-Hopkins' pass and snapped a shot from the right circle over Allen's glove, and then Hall -- who has 11 points in the last 11 games -- cashed in on a breakaway attempt from Eberle, after Allen made the initial save but Hall pounced on the doorstep. The play unveiled after Eberle blocked a Barret Jackman wrister from the blue line.

The ladder goal chased Allen from the game after allowing three goals on seven shots in favor of Jaroslav Halak, who stopped all 12 shots he saw.

It was a bit of redemption for the Oilers, who lost twice to the Blues this month. They fell 4-2 here on March 1 and lost 3-0 at Rexall Place on Saturday.

"They came into our barn and ran us out pretty good," Eberle said of the Blues' win in Edmonton Saturday. "Tonight we wanted to send a message that we can play tough, too."

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